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Into Ithilien: Strategy and Theme

by on January 5, 2013

ithilien map

Part 2 of our Heirs of Numenor strategy series has us taking a look at the Into Ithilien quest (you can find Part 1, covering Peril in Pelargir here). The Hall of Beorn blog has done a wonderful, in-depth job of detailing key considerations when taking on this quest, and I’m half-tempted to simply send you in that direction and be on my merry way. However, out of the 3 quests included in the HoN box, this one was actually the most difficult for me to defeat. So if any of you out there have a similar experience to mine, then you will need all the help you can get. Here we go then, Into Ithilien!

Theme: The quest, as can be gathered from the name, takes place in the Gondorian province of Ithilien. Ithilien has the misfortune of being the part of Gondor that is the furthest east, lying across the Anduin from the main bulk of the kingdom, and having as its neighbor a little place called Mordor. Once upon a time, Ithilien was home to one of the largest and most significant cities in Gondor, Minas Ithil. However, this city fell to darkness and became known instead as an infamous site of evil, Minas Morgul. Ithilien is no stranger to conflict, as for the thousand years prior to the War of the Ring and the events of this game, it was constantly under attack from Orcs and Haradrim. In fact, incursions by the Harad are kind of an ongoing theme for this region, even before the return of Sauron to Mordor. It is no surprise then that a quest taking part in this province would focus on battle against enemies from the South. The heroes find themselves helping a Ranger named Celador to ambush a Haradrim army. This is definitely a nod to the moment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy when Frodo and Sam encounter Faramir, who is busy waiting to, you guessed it, ambush an army from the South that is traveling through Ithilien. As with Peril in Pelargir and the rest of the HoN box, I find that the thematic elements of the quest are conveyed very well. Just the chance to fight a new type of Enemy (Harad) is welcome, and the “choice” of moving to different quest stages depending on what happens to Celador is well-done. It makes sense that if the orchestrator of the ambush and the person who promised to guide you to your objective dies, then your path would be very different (and this also has a heavy influence on strategy, as discussed below). I hope to see branching quest paths be more consistently utilized in the future.

Theme Rating: ♦♦♦♦

Strategy:  You need to be very focused to beat Into Ithilien, and as much as possible in this game should be planning your next two to three turns in advance. I came close to success a few times with two Gondorian-themed decks, but ultimately fell victim to Blocking Wargs and enemy pile-up on quest stage 3. It was ultimately using two finely-tuned Dwarf decks that allowed me to beat this quest. However, it is possible to win without resorting to Dwarves, if you keep some core considerations in mind. As I did with the Peril in Pelargir quest, here are my keys to victory for Into Ithilien.

* Build your deck around synergies: What allowed my Dwarf decks to be victorious is the fact that they are designed around card synergies and universal buffing. During a battle stage, a 0-cost card like Khazad! Khazad! (increases one Dwarf character’s attack strength by 3) or the support of Dain Ironfoot can be absolutely invaluable in boosting your questing total. As with the Massing at Osgiliath scenario, this is one where you start off with a high amount of threat in the staging area (6 in a two-player game), which will quickly increase depending on what you draw during staging. If we assume an average of 2-3 threat per card revealed, you can probably expect about 10-12 threat in the staging area on the first round in a two-player game. You need a deck that will not only give you synergies, but provide a large increase from the very first hand you draw. You can’t afford to simply tread water on that first round, especially with a location like Ithilien Road (which gives all enemies an engagement cost of 0) in play. You need to make progress from the jump. When building your deck(s), plan to be able to play at least one stat-boosting card (whether temporary or permanent, event or attachment) per turn. Think about it this way, your heroes, as printed, are not good enough for this quest. You need them to be better than they are. A card like Durin’s Song (pictured on the right) is a perfect example of what I am talking about, is extremely flexible, and is low-cost. In order to get the most out of stat-boosting, you should make sure that you have plenty of ways to ready the characters who benefit them, such as Unexpected Courage, Fast Hitch, Cram, or Spare Hood and Cloak. My favorite combination was to have Gimli with 3 or 4 damage tokens (fairly easy to acquire with archery), an Unexpected Courage/Cram, and a Khazad! Khazad! or Durin’s Song. Here, we are talking about a hero who can quest for 7-9 during a battle, and attack an enemy for the same amount as well. Again, this is a quest that calls for superheroes, not just heroes.

durins song

As I said though, Dwarves are not the only game in town. A Gondor deck using the new Leadership Boromir, who boosts all Gondor allies’ attack values, is also a possibility. However, at the moment the Gondor deck is slightly weaker because 1) Dain boosts both attack and willpower, making the Dwarf deck more prepared for quest stage 3 (a classic willpower quest stage), 2) Boromir boosts only allies while Dain boosts heroes as well, 3) there are a wider selection of Dwarf allies to choose from. That being said, my Gondor decks performed pretty well, and were only sabotaged by some very unlucky draws from the encounter deck. Whether Gondor, Dwarf, or some other deck, because of the new battle and siege mechanics, you need synergies that support attack and defense (and willpower as well for stage 3). This means a Rohan synergy deck (or anything focused around just willpower) will not be as effective, as those willpower-buffing cards will most likely be wasted for the majority of the quest stages, and you need to be able to deal with enemies effectively and quickly.

* Choose your path carefully: As mentioned, which quest stage you advance to after the first depends on whether Celador lives or dies. Quest stage 2 is a siege with archery damage built in, while quest stage 3 is neither a battle or siege, though it does have the special condition that enemies cannot be optionally engaged and no engagement checks are made. This raises the interesting strategic question of which route is better to take. It seems that the designers intended for quest stage 3 to be the better choice, as you must satisfy a condition (keeping Celador alive) to be able to use it. However, that does not mean it is the automatic choice. If you have built a deck(s) with low willpower, and have plenty of heroes and allies with high defense, it might make absolute sense to let Celador die. This means that the many, many enemies contained in the encounter deck will continue to come at you, but if you are confident that you can complete the siege quest stage quickly, it is a perfectly valid choice. However, I would submit that choosing quest stage 3 is usually the best choice (though not always). Why do I feel this way?

1) In my opinion, sieges are the hardest of the three types of questing. Usually you want your high-defense characters available to, well, defend, and exhausting them to quest leaves you extremely vulnerable. This situation is made worse in that the average attack strength of enemies in this deck is very high. Of course, you can attempt to mitigate this fact by using lots of low-cost, high-defense allies like Winged Guardian and Defender of Ramas to be able to both quest and block. A card like Light The Beacons (+2 defense to all characters AND they don’t exhaust to defend) can also help solve the problem.

2) The temporary respite from engagement is welcome. I find the enemies in the deck to be nasty enough, and appear frequently enough, that after a few rounds you will want a chance to catch your breath and clear out the ones engaged with you without worrying about more coming down the road. Because you don’t have to worry about engagement, you can also commit as many characters as you want to questing without being sideswiped by an unexpected enemy (be careful that you don’t finish the stage when you didn’t intend to though, as that protection will vanish). That all being said, you need to finish this quest stage in one or two rounds (three at the most). Otherwise, the build-up of enemies will likely be too much for you to handle and you will drown in threat. You can use some Dunhere, Hands Upon the Bow, Hail of Stones, Ranger Spikes, Gandalf tactics to thin it out a bit, but this will only last so long.

3) There are more willpower-buffing cards than defense-buffing ones. I find it easier to save a few of such cards up and blow through quest stage 3 than to try to do the same with quest stage 2.

4) Not dealing with a siege also means that you get to avoid some Blocking Wargs nastiness (see below).

Be prepared for Blocking Wargs: This is that one nasty treachery card that ruins your day. I would like to bring some warmth to my home this winter using nothing but Blocking Wargs cards as fuel. When I first looked at the card, I thought to myself, “Well, that doesn’t look so bad.” 1 damage to each questing character seems par for the course and is pretty been there, done that as far as treacheries go. However, what makes this card nasty is really the surge effect and the fact that it gets shuffled back into the encounter deck if the current quest is a battle or siege. Because of some trick of the cosmos, it seems that Blocking Wargs always get clumped near each other towards the bottom half of the deck, meaning that when they get shuffled back in, you can have the fun experience of drawing 4 of these lovelies in a row (like I did). This Blocking Wargs recursion, even without getting stuck in the possible infinite loop if these are the last cards of the encounter deck, can single-handedly decimate your allies and heroes. So how do you deal with Blocking Wargs?

Who invited wargs to a Harad party?

Who invited Wargs to a Harad party?

1) Classic treachery-cancellation: Use Eleanor and/or A Test of Will to clear the wargs out. The benefit of these cards is that the shuffling back into the encounter deck is included as part of the When Revealed text, meaning that it will just straight up be discarded instead of coming back to ruin your day (you still have to deal with the surge though).

2) Keep Celador alive: One of the huge benefits of taking the quest stage 3 path is that it has neither the battle or siege keywords. This means that Blocking Wargs will do its business, but at least not get shuffled back into the encounter deck.

3) Keep your threat under 37 for the last quest stage: If any player’s threat is at 37 or higher when you move to the final quest stage, then it gains siege. If you can avoid this, then you also neutralize Blocking Wargs a bit (therefore if you can combine #2 and #3, Blocking Wargs is at its worst only in 1 out of 3 quest stages). This is easier said than done though, I have yet to accomplish this.

4) Avoid Blocking Wargs through card effects: Out of the Wild, which allows you search the top 5 encounter cards and remove 1 to your victory display can allow you to get rid of a few copies of Blocking Wargs. Even as annoying as Blocking Wargs are, there is so much going on in this quest that it is a bit hard for me to justify the resources and deck space needed to play Out of the Wild. However, it is worthy of consideration. On the other hand, cards that let you put encounter cards on the bottom of the deck, like Denethor or Risk Some Light may actually make the problem worse later. The last thing you want is Blocking Wargs cards gathering together in the same vicinity of the encounter deck. A final possibility is to use The End Comes to shuffle the discard pile back into the encounter deck if it is getting low and you know most of the Blocking Wargs are still left to be drawn. I haven’t used this approach myself, as it is isn’t helpful enough for me to justify including it in a deck at the expense of other cards, but it might be worth a shot if you find yourself continually running into the problem of Blocking Wargs chain-crushing you into oblivion.

Pick your battles: I mentioned this in some of my other HoN articles, but killing every enemy on the table is not your number one priority. This is coming from a player who can be pretty bloodthirsty and has been known to postpone finishing a quest if it means bashing a few more enemies. However, success in Into Ithilien is a matter of survival. If you can kill off enemies, then do so, but if it means holding back characters from the quest to leave them available for attack, then remember that your first priority is to get through these quest stages as fast as possible before it piles up on you (which it will, if you give it time). This doesn’t mean that you let enemies mass on your side of the board until you are outnumbered. Instead, what I’m suggesting is that you take the approach of pruning them like you would a tree, rather than smashing every one that emerges like a game of Whac-A-Mole (which can lead to you not giving enough bodies towards questing). In order to guide your pruning, here are some thoughts about the main enemies in this quest:

– Southron Company: These can be really nasty during a battle or siege with 3 threat, 5 attack, and 5 hit points. However, during a normal quest stage (like quest stage 3 or quest stage 4 if your threat is low enough), they become more like kittens, with only 1 threat and 3 attack. This is yet another reason why I favor the strategy of keeping Celador alive and taking The Hidden Way.

– Morgul Spider: What’s he doing in an army of Harad anyway? This thing can get unbelievably nasty (+1 attack for every character not committed to the quest), and I’ve even seen it get as high as 9 attack strength. For that reason, save your chump blockers and Feints for this nasty little beast. Best case is it comes up during quest stage 3, when it has to sit in the staging area and seethe while its attack bonus vanishes at the end of the round. If you can spot one before it comes off the encounter deck, using Denethor or Rumour of the Earth, that is a great time to throw down some Ranger Spikes. This is a good moment to mention that Ranger Spikes is a card that is absolutely invaluable in this quest. Put 3 in your decks, no question.

Play in the staging area. Attaches to the first enemy that comes into the staging area, giving them -2 threat and they do not engage.

Plays in the staging area. Attaches to the first enemy that comes into the staging area, giving it -2 threat and preventing it from engaging the players.

– Forest Bat: Hello Thalin, welcome back to relevancy. This thing is barely worthy of mention, but removing a hero (note: hero, not character) from a quest can really put a hurting on your progress. Thalin makes it all go away. If not, just be aware that losing one hero’s stats for the quest is a possibility, and think about committing at least one hero with a lower attack (or defense or willpower) so that they can be taken out of the equation without much harm done.

– Southron Mercenaries: There’s an ugly treachery, Southron Support, that requires each player to pick a Harad enemy of their choice and put it into play. I usually pick these guys, as their attack strength of 3 is manageable, and they are relatively easy to dispatch (2 defense, 4 hit points). Their archery damage can be annoying, but I generally find that archery is not my main concern. (If it is not currently a battle or siege, though, then I will often pick the lions-turned-kittens known as Southron Company instead.)

– Haradrim Elite: Ugh, probably my least favorite of the enemies, most because of its Forced effect, which means that it gets an automatic attack from the staging area on the first player. The fact that it is Forced and not When Revealed also means that this effect cannot be cancelled. This can really upset your carefully-laid plans and use up a defender that you were hoping to have for the combat phase. It has low hit points (3), but a defense of 3 means it will probably use up a few of your characters to make it go away. This one’s bite is really in the initial reveal, so once it is engaged, I would often just keep defending it and worry about killing anything that was a bigger danger at the moment. Unfortunately, the many shadow effects in this quest that give a boost to Harad enemies make this kind of cyclical defense pattern risky. 

– Mumak: Brutal. This is the epitome of what I mean by picking your battles. I honestly don’t even bother trying to kill it. I keep it in the staging area as long as possible, using a Radagast’s Cunning or two to neutralize its threat. When it does finally engage, I hope to throw chump blockers in its path and/or Feint it on my way to beating the quest.

* Pace is important: As described over in the Beorn’s Hall article, pace is key in all quests, and this one is no different. The pace you take this quest at will depend on your deck, play-style, and what’s coming off the encounter deck. In general, I went with the sprinting method, far more so than is usual for me. No matter how well-prepared you are and how tuned your deck is, a quest like this, with such ugly enemies, treacheries, and even locations, will beat you if you give it the time to build its forces. I’ve found myself pretty well-situated only to be destroyed by a couple of unfortunate encounter deck draws. You want to move through quest stage 1 quickly before Celador dies, while there is so much nastiness likely on the board by quest stage 4 that you just want to finish the game before you are killed or drown in threat. You will be tempted to slow your pace a bit in quest stage 3, while you get a relative break from combat, but if you take too long the staging area will flood with enemies and threat. If you can manage the staging area at this time for few rounds, though, like on one of my successful play-throughs, then you can prepare for a big push on the last quest stage.

Don’t be afraid to sacrifice heroes: The game isn’t over until it’s over. None of us like to lose heroes in this game, but a difficult quest like this will often see you make it to the finished line bruised and bloody, and a few less in number than when you started. Don’t overlook the fact that it sometimes will be necessary to sacrifice 1 or 2 heroes for the good of the quest. For example, on one of the last rounds of a game that I ultimately won, I chose to let Frodo die from an attack rather than absorb the threat gain, fearing (correctly in this case) that the extra threat might put me in jeopardy of losing the whole quest. Mostly this comes into play in the late game of the scenario, so when you are at quest stage 4, prioritize the survival of those heroes and allies who have the stat that you need (willpower or defense, depending on your threat level when you get to this stage). All others, including heroes, become expendable if necessary to protect those who will get you to victory.

Winning Decks: To end this segment on Into Ithilien, I thought I would post the Dwarf decks that allowed me to defeat this quest, for those who are curious or searching for some ideas. They are designed to work in conjunction with each other. Here they are:

Two Dwarves, One Hobbit (Spirit/Tactics Deck)

This deck was designed to handle most of the combat (but a large chunk of battle/siege questing as well).

Hero 
Thalin (Core) x1
Gimli (Core) x1
Frodo Baggins (CatC) x1

Ally (24)
Bofur (TRG) x2
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x2
Zigil Miner (KD) x3
Erebor Battle Master (TLD) x3
Veteran of Nanduhirion (KD) x2
Veteran Axehand (Core) x3
Bofur (OHaUH) x2
Defender of Rammas (HON) x2
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x2
Beorn (Core) x1
Gandalf (Core) x2

Attachment (13)
Ring Mail (TLD) x2
Citadel Plate (Core) x2
Spear of the Citadel (HON) x3
Dwarrowdelf Axe (KD) x2
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2
Miruvor (SaF) x2

Event (16)
Khazad! Khazad! (KD) x3
Hail of Stones (RtR) x2
Swift Strike (Core) x1
Feint (Core) x2
A Test of Will (Core) x3
Hasty Stroke (Core) x3
The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core) x2

Two Dwarves, One Dunedain (Leadership/Lore Deck)

This is a support deck. Its most important role was to manage and neutralize the encounter deck as much as possible. It also provided some much-needed healing, as well as buffing.

Hero 
Bifur (KD) x1
Aragorn (TWitW) x1
Dain Ironfoot (RtM) x1

Ally (21)
Erebor Hammersmith (Core) x2
Longbeard Map-Maker (CatC) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Dori (OHaUH) x2
Miner of the Iron Hills (Core) x2
Ithilien Tracker (HON) x2
Fili (OHaUH) x2
Longbeard Elder (FoS) x2
Gandalf (Core) x2
Kili (OHaUH) x1

Attachment (18)
Legacy of Durin (TWitW) x2
Ranger Spikes (HON) x3
A Burning Brand (CatC) x3
Dunedain Warning (CatC) x3
Hardy Leadership (SaF) x2
Cram (OHaUH) x3
Steward of Gondor (Core) x2

Event (12)
Durin’s Song (KD) x3
Gildor’s Counsel (THoEM) x2
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Lore of Imladris (Core) x2
Radagast’s Cunning (Core) x2

That completes Tales from the Cards’ investigation of Into Ithilien. The strategy discussion of Siege of Cair Andros will be coming soon. As always, leave your thoughts, questions, and suggestions below!

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9 Comments
  1. This is fantastic. I really like how you gave a detailed explanation of the thematic context for this scenario before diving into your strategy for beating it. The decks are very well tuned for each other, and refreshingly different from the ones I’ve beaten it with thus far. I’m looking forward to trying this scenario again but with your decks, and it gives me a chance to utilize some of your suggestions above. I commend you sir, great work on this!

  2. Glaurung permalink

    Ok i got good stand for my galaxy note 2 and record some video how i play random game against Ithilien. Sorry for quality this is my first video. Actually i have fun with this so i will make more videos sure. English is not my native language so sorry for some speech mistake. There is 2 mistake i done but they very small and doesn change notning. Check it out!

    Here is link for first part:

    Here is link for second part:

  3. I’m playing this quest now and really trying to find a reliable strategy that doesn’t have any dwarves. I’ve had some luck with Tactics Boromir, Beregond, Hama and Eagles/Feint but often threat out. Now I’ve splashed some Spirit with Song of Travel, but this quest remains an absolute beast! I really enjoyed your strategy article though. I like that the advice is general enough to guide deck building without giving away your deck list right away as it gives readers a chance to think through on their own as we go. Thanks!

  4. Mako83 permalink

    Blocking Wargs has been fixed in the FAQ 1.4:

    Blocking Wargs HoN 29
    Should read: “Surge. When Revealed: Deal 1 damage
    to each character committed to the quest.”
    Omit the parenthetical.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Indeed. This article was written in the Wild West days before the FAQ neutered Blocking Wargs, and that change definitely does take a good deal of teeth out of that treachery (although it is still pretty nasty). It definitely was a needed change, because of the possibility of the infinite loop, although it does take away one of the incentives of choosing the 3rd stage route instead of the 2nd stage.

  5. Two Dwarves One Hobbit contains four Bofur, exceeding the three by name limit

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Cool, thanks! These deck lists are from a long time ago so I have no way of checking, but it may have been a typo. Not sure.

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